Ambition in public life occupies an odd place in a functioning republic. After all, the American system is built upon the premise that, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” as was so eloquently stated in the Federalist Papers. But this leaves the question, “ambition for what ends?” Ideally, the vital but messy work of government by the people is epitomized by ambitious leaders championing ambitious causes on behalf of ambitious constituents. But recent comments by Governor Josh Shapiro reveals this calculus is different for Senator John Fetterman and those around him. Fetterman’s ambition is not in service of Pennsylvanians, but Fetterman himself. Therefore, we as Pennsylvanians are the means, rather than the ends, to Fetterman.

An interview between Governor Shapiro and NBC’s Dasha Burns illustrates this dynamic. In the interview, Burns asks Shapiro if he has spoken to Fetterman and his family following his hospitalization for clinical depression, which follows Fetterman’s slower than promised recovery from a near fatal stroke last May. Shapiro responds that he has spoken and texted with Fetterman’s wife Giselle but avoids answering whether he has spoken to Fetterman directly.

This slick side-step notwithstanding, it is worth reviewing Shapiro’s answer:

“I hope that he [Fetterman] is getting the care he needs. It is a brave thing that he did, asking for help and asking for that care. I expect him to come back. I expect him to serve in the United States Senate for a good long while.”

Burns next asks if there is a “contingency plan” if Fetterman decides to step down. Shapiro responds that, “There is no contingency plan and it is 100 percent Senator Fetterman’s decision as to what he will do in the future.” 

When pressed further on Fetterman’s ability to finish his six-year term, Shapiro states, “I feel no pressure. I have not entertained any conversations on this matter. I am proud of Senator Fetterman for getting the help he needs and I am there for Giselle and their family…I know the people of Pennsylvania I talk to are encouraging him along to get the help that he needs and I am happy to see that he is getting it.”

Through Fetterman’s actions and Shapiro’s words, we are left with an uncomfortable conclusion: Fetterman’s needs and ambitions are secondary to the needs of Pennsylvanians. Fetterman’s chief ambition is to be a Senator for the sake of being a Senator, rather than being a representative of Pennsylvanians.

To understand this point, we need to return to Shapiro’s explanation of the situation. The conversation focused on Fetterman’s needs, not those of his constituents. Don’t his constituents deserve a Senator capable of performing the tasks of the position? This is left out of the equation. 

Shapiro says that it is brave of Fetterman to seek the help he needs. We should all agree on this point. However, bravery also requires Fetterman to once and for all explain whether he is capable of performing the job. For nearly a year we have been told Fetterman is on the road to recovery while all available evidence suggests the opposition. The same interviewer, Dasha Burns, was lambasted by Fetterman’s team and many others for suggesting Fetterman’s recovery was slower than advertised. Bravery in this case would also require an honest assessment by Fetterman and his partners in government, like Shapiro, of his ability to stay on the job.

Next, Shapiro boldly proclaims Fetterman’s future in the Senate is his decision. Really?! Pennsylvania’s twelve million residents don’t get a say? Yes, Fetterman was just elected by the people of Pennsylvania. However, evidence is continuing to mount that we were misled about the severity of Fetterman’s stroke, the progress of his recovery, his ability to communicate and process information, and what to expect next since he checked into Walter Reed. Given this level of misdirection, the opinions of average Pennsylvanians should carry some weight. Shapiro goes on to say he is there for Fetterman and his family. Great, now who is there for us? Are our needs not a factor?

After all, it is worth remembering a few short months ago part of the reason Pennsylvanians selected Fetterman over his opponent Mehmet Oz. Fetterman prevailed because Oz, who resides in New Jersey, clearly decided to jump into the race in hopes of becoming a Senator. Pennsylvania voters correctly identified Oz’s race as a vanity project. 

Fetterman is motivated by much the same.

Shapiro’s final point brings us to the conclusion that we are here as the servants of Fetterman’s ambitions, not the other way around. The only time us mere Pennsylvanians are factored into this conversation is in our willingness to encourage Fetterman’s recovery. Our interests, and Fetterman’s ability to represent them, is never considered.

Fetterman’s campaign website boldly states he and his wife “have fought for causes they believe in.” And what cause is that? Fetterman’s lifelong project to look in the mirror and see a United States Senator looking back.

Seth Higgins, a native of Saint Marys, Pennsylvania, specializes in bringing conservative thought to local government. Seth is a former Tablet Magazine Fellow and is currently a Krauthammer Fellow with The Tikvah Fund.

4 thoughts on “Seth Higgins: Pennsylvanians are being made to serve Fetterman’s ambition”

  1. Where is the republican leadership advancing the removal of Fetterman from the Senate?
    Fetterman will never be capable. Sure , Shapiro would appoint a democrat. This shows Shapiro is nothing but a political hack

  2. It should be recognized that there will not be any consideration of the best interests of Pennsylvania’s citizens in Senator Fetterman’s tenure in the Senate. He will be supported as long as the Democratic Party believes he can be useful and manipulatable. Once this no longer possible, he will be dropped like a hot rock in a pair of y-fronts. His tenure will certainly not be evaluated on his contribution to sound governance. Dr. Oz may have been a vanity move, but at least he could complete a sentence. I think this situation is a good example of getting who you vote for. To get some insight into this situation, I would recommend reading histories of President Wilson’s second term at the end of WWI. Wilson had become an invalid from a massive stroke for the last years of his administration while his wife handled as much of the duties of office as she could (and this at the time women did not have the vote). Needless to say, many pressing matters were not addressed.

    1. Once Fetterman actually steps down, Governor Shapiro will be able to appoint a fully able person to the Senate seat – let’s hope he selects someone like Connor Lamb, the person who should have been nominated by the D’s in the first place

  3. Fetterman had stopped taking care of himself and that is why he was feeling “lightheaded” before his admission to the hospital. This means he was not eating or drinking. These are classic signs of clinical depression. To those with this problem, today and every other day looks bleak as they stare down the black hole of depression. Now they want us to believe that he is doing the business of representing us in the Senate when clearly he cannot even take care of himself. He did not receive the care he should have gotten with his stroke, so much of what we see now is going to be permanent. He was told by a doctor over 5 years ago that he had atrial fibrillation and he needed to be properly tested and medicated, or he almost certainly risked a massive stroke and he chose not to. End result is what we see here today. He looked gaunt in the TV reports and that was from a considerable distance. He did not say anything during the TV report either, so we have no way of knowing if in fact his communication skills have continued to deteriorate. The charade is over. This man will need long term care for both the physical side and emotional side for these problems even after he is out of the hospital.

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